January 17, 2013
Abigail Van Buren. (Courtesy Phillips-Van Buren, Inc.)

Abigail Van Buren. (Courtesy Phillips-Van Buren, Inc.)

Remembering Abigail Van Buren

Pauline Esther Phillips, better known to millions of readers around the world as advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, or "Dear Abby," died Jan. 16, 2013. She was 94.

Van Buren began dispensing wisdom in 1956 after she told editors at the San Francisco Chronicle that she could "write a better advice column than the one you've been printing."

"Dear Abby," as the column was called, became one of the country's most popular, rivaling that of another advice columnist — her twin sister, Ann Landers, who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. Landers, whose real name was Esther Pauline Lederer, died in 2002.

According to her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, Van Buren's pen name was a hybrid of Abigail from the Book of Solomon and President Martin Van Buren's surname. At its peak, "Dear Abby" was syndicated in 1,200 newspapers and reached more than 90 million people worldwide.

Typical "Dear Abby" advice was pointed and witty:

  • "People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes."
  • "Wisdom doesn't automatically come with old age. Nothing does — except wrinkles."
  • "It is almost impossible to throw dirt on someone without getting a little on yourself."
  • "It's only work if you'd rather be doing something else."

Van Buren, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, stopped writing the column in 2002. Her daughter, Jeanne, pens the column today.

Exhibits on Van Buren and Landers are on display in the Newseum's News Corporation News History Gallery.

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